Solskjaer: Super League and Glazer protests won't hinder Man Utd's focus

By Sports Desk April 25, 2021

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insisted his team will not be impacted by protests against the club's owners and the European Super League ahead of a defining week at Old Trafford.

Solskjaer's Red Devils were held to a 0-0 draw by rivals Leeds United in Premier League action at Elland Road on Sunday.

The pre-match build-up had been centred on the Super League controversy, which has fuelled an already negative view on Manchester United's owners – the Glazer family.

The breakaway competition, which sought to establish a closed-shop competition featuring 12 of the continent's elite clubs – including United – collapsed 48 hours after its launch, in the face of widespread opposition.

United fans have continued to protest against the Glazer family, with a plane trailing a banner – "2bn stolen – Glazers out' – flying over Elland Road prior to kick-off on Sunday.

As United look ahead to Thursday's opening leg of their Europa League semi-final against Roma, followed by a showdown against bitter rivals Liverpool on Sunday, Solskjaer was asked if the protests would distract the players for the remainder of the season.

"I'm really happy with the boys' focus. They have such a determination to finish the season strong," Solskjaer told reporters as United sit second in the Premier League, 10 points behind leaders Manchester City and 13 points clear of sixth-placed Liverpool.

"Of course, the European disappointment of the last game of last season [against Sevilla in the Europa League], that still sticks in their minds and hearts.

"We're very, very focused to do well against Roma [UEL semi-final] and, of course, we've got Liverpool in between so we're not worried about [the protests] at all."

United are unbeaten in their last 24 Premier League away games (W15 D9), with only Arsenal between April 2003 and September 2004 (27) having a longer such run in English top-flight history.

"It's a really good achievement, no matter if there's fans or no fans," Solskjaer said. "With the 24 game [streak] without defeat, I think the players have prepared well for these games. We travel, the work by the coaches for every game is really, really good and planned down to a tee.

"I've got to say, we hope it continues because we've got a lot of big games coming up. We want to take as many points as possible."

United are on track to finish second this season, with the Red Devils eight points clear of Leicester City – who have a match in hand.

However, United's wait for Premier League glory is set to continue, having not hoisted the trophy aloft since 2012-13.

"We've taken baby steps in the way we play, in the way we train, in the fitness," added Solskjaer. "The coaches, the work that has been done on the training ground has been planned. We have been able to put down layer by layer by layer, as I said, and now we feel confident going into every game, trusting our way of playing.

"That's a big thing for us, knowing that whoever we play against, we have our own way of dealing with the opponent. Of course, there's little tweaks here and there but with an addition or two, we'll keep on strengthening this squad and keep on training hard.

"I've not seen many teams, in the second half, dominate as much as we did against Leeds. They're so fit, strong, they steam roller teams but we almost did that to them in the second half."

United have drawn seven league games nil-nil this season – only in 1980-81 (eight) have they been involved in more goalless draws in a single league campaign. The Red Devils have the most goalless draws of any side in the Premier League this term.

"Compared to last season, we've won a few more tight games," said Solskjaer. "We've won many games towards the end of the game, I think our fitness has been really good. Second half, we looked strong, like athletes. I really liked what I saw out there. We dominated, played in their half, kept them away from our goal, or even from our half really.

"So really happy with that but today we just didn't have the moments, we didn't take them when we had them. A draw is disappointing because we wanted to put pressure on Manchester City, but unfortunately we couldn't score."

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    Peru beat Ecuador in a World Cup qualifier this month and a repeat of that victory on Wednesday will see them through to the quarter-finals of the Copa America.

    Goals from Luis Advincula and Christian Cueva in Quito on June 8 gave Peru a first win in the battle to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar next year.

    The Blanquirroja responded to a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Brazil in their Copa America opener by beating Colombia 2-1 in Goiania on Sunday.

    Ricardo Gareca's side moved up to third in Group B courtesy of a Yerry Mina own goal and with four teams qualifying for the last eight, they are on the verge of advancing.

    Peru, beaten in the 2019 final by Brazil, will have to improve at the back, having failed to keep a clean sheet in 11 matches but will be on a high after ending a run of 10 games without getting the better of Colombia.

    Ecuador are bottom of the group with one point after Ronald Hernandez's stoppage-time goal salvaged a 2-2 draw for Venezuela on Sunday.

    La Tri boss Gustavo Alfaro is well aware of the threat Peru pose ahead of the clash at Estadio Olimpico Pedro Ludovico Teixeira.

    He said: "We must not forget that they have come from being finalists of the last Copa America. Apart from the fact that they had a bad start to the qualifying rounds, they are in a process of recovery. They have a very good and capable coach in Ricardo Gareca.

    "I have full confidence in who we are, in the capacities that they have from the middle of the field forward, in how they dominate situations, in everything they have done in knockout games."


    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Ecuador – Gonzalo Plata

    Plata was only introduced as a substitute midway through the second half against Venezuela but surely did enough to earn a start.

    The winger put La Tri in front for a second time and hit the target with three of his four shots in a lively cameo, also providing two key passes.

    Peru – Alexander Callens

    A lack of clean sheets has been an issue for Peru, but Callens played a big hand in the win over Colombia at the heart of their defence.

    His seven clearances were over twice as many as any other player as Peru picked up three precious points.

    KEY OPTA FACTS

    - Ecuador have failed to win in their previous five games against Peru in World Cup qualification and Copa America (D1 L4) fixtures. Previously, they were 11 games unbeaten against Los Incas in these competitions (W7 D4).

    - Three of the four Ecuador wins under Gustavo Alfaro were at home: their only win away from home with him as a manager was against Bolivia, in World Cup qualification.

    - Peru are the only side to have progressed from all group stages in the Copa America since 1997. Argentina are the other team that have never been eliminated in the first round in that time, though they did not appear in Copa America 2001.

    - Thanks to his goal against Venezuela, Ecuador's Plata became the first player born in the 21st century to score in Copa America.

    - Two Peruvians rank in the top four players with the most recoveries per game in this Copa America (at least two appearances): Renato Tapia (10.5), Yoshimar Yotun (9, alongside Ecuador's Pervis Estupinan), surpassed only by Junior Alonso (11).

  • Brazil v Colombia: Selecao out to secure top spot Brazil v Colombia: Selecao out to secure top spot

    Brazil can secure top spot in Copa America Group B with victory over Colombia on Wednesday.

    The two sides go into the glamour clash of the group on the back of hugely contrasting results against Peru.

    Neymar and Co. ensured the Selecao swept aside Los Incas 4-0 in their last game, but Colombia were stunned as they slipped to a 2-1 defeat to the same opposition.

    As a result, Brazil will finish top of Group B should they win against Colombia and Peru fail to beat Ecuador.

    That will secure a quarter-final with the fourth-placed side in Group A, but it may not mean a routine last-eight clash, as Uruguay occupy that spot as it stands.

    A win will secure Colombia's place in the quarters, though a draw could be enough if Ecuador lose to Peru in the earlier game.

    The omens are not good for Colombia heading into the match in Rio de Janeiro. They are winless in their last four meetings with Selecao, Colombia's last victory coming in the 2015 Copa America.

    Brazil are the top scorers in the tournament, having netted seven goals in their opening two games, but they may look to show greater ruthlessness in front of goal against Colombia.

    Their 35 shots have carried an expected goals (xG) value of 8.6 and, with this game likely to be a better barometer of where they stand ahead of the knockout stages, Brazil will be eager to do a better job of taking their chances and send a message to their rivals for the trophy.

    Should Colombia seal progression, it will be the fifth successive Copa America in which they have reached the last eight.

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    Brazil - Richarlison

    The Everton striker may have earned a place in the starting XI with his performance in the thumping of Peru.

    Richarlison came on at the start of the second half for Gabriel Barbosa and had four shots, with three on target, scored Brazil's fourth and created two chances.

    Colombia - Edwin Cardona

    Though Colombia slumped to a surprise defeat, it was another impressive performance for Cardona against Peru.

    He created a match-high three chances, taking his tally for the tournament to seven, and produced two good crosses in a game Colombia lost despite having an xG of 1.5 to Peru's 0.94.

    KEY OPTA FACTS

    - Brazil have lost only of their last 19 games against Colombia in all competitions (W11 D7). Their only defeat against them in that run was in Copa America 2015 (1-0).

    - Brazil are unbeaten at home since their defeat to the Netherlands in third-place play-off at the 2014 World Cup. Since then, they have played 25 games (W22 D3) and only failed to score in two games.

    - Colombia boss Reinaldo Rueda is looking for his first win against Brazil: he has managed two games against them, one as Ecuador manager and another in his previous spell with Colombia (D1 L1). His draw was for Colombia on Brazilian soil in qualification for the 2006 World Cup.

    - Brazil have scored more goals (7) and had more shots on target per game (8) than any other team in Copa America 2021, and only Paraguay (16.5) have created more chances per game than the Brazilians (12.5) in the competition. Brazil have score one goal every 26 minutes on average.

    - Colombia have made their shots, on average, closer to the target than any other side (13.7 metres): 82.5 per cent of their shots were from inside the box, the highest percentage in Copa America 2021.

  • Portugal v France: Champions feel 'responsibility' to recover from record-breaking defeat Portugal v France: Champions feel 'responsibility' to recover from record-breaking defeat

    A record-breaking defeat to Germany on matchday two leaves Portugal with work to do against France in a repeat of the previous European Championship final.

    Portugal became the first defending champions to concede four goals at the Euros and now need at least a point to reach the last 16.

    Top spot in Group F could still be theirs if they beat France, although Portugal's Euro 2016 final triumph was their only win against Les Bleus in 13 attempts.

    Reflecting on the Germany match ahead of this tough test, coach Fernando Santos said: "We all felt disappointed on our way back.

    "Everyone feels a sense of responsibility, and the following day the players reacted well.

    "They are experienced players and appreciate that sometimes you don't win. There are times when even the top teams don't deal well with defeat."

    France have never previously played Portugal before the semi-final stage of a major tournament, but their meetings tend to be low scoring. The previous four have provided only three goals.

    Although Didier Deschamps' men are already through as at least one of the four best third-placed sides, the coach insists they do not lack motivation.

    "To be honest, in the situation where we are now, if we had six points I would have the same thoughts because a negative result would have the same impact," he said.

    "We have the insurance of being qualified already, that gives us some kind of tranquillity but it won't change our playing style.

    "Of course we owe it to ourselves and the French people to deliver the best possible result."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Portugal – Cristiano Ronaldo

    When is Ronaldo not Portugal's player to watch? He has history in his sights, too, having tied Miroslav Klose as the leading scorer at Euros and World Cups combined (19 goals) and moved within three of Ali Daei's world-record 109-goal tally last time out. The Juventus superstar has never scored against France, though, his six goalless appearances his worst record in international football.

    France – Antoine Griezmann

    Griezmann was the subject of praise from Santos ahead of this match and is himself only three goals adrift of a benchmark for France. He has 11 goals at major international tournaments, with Michel Platini's 14 leading the way. He has Thierry Henry (12) and Just Fontaine (13) to leapfrog before reaching that record, though.
     

    KEY OPTA FACTS

    – This is the fifth match between Portugal and France at a major tournament, but it is the first time they have met in the group stages; all four previous encounters took place in the semis (Euro 1984, Euro 2000, World Cup 2006) or final (Euro 2016). France won the first three while Portugal came out victors in the Euro 2016 showpiece match.
    – Following their 1-1 draw with Hungary on MD2, France have avoided defeat in more matches when trailing at half-time than any other team in European Championship history (six – W4 D2).
    – France are unbeaten in each of their past 11 group stage games at major international tournaments (World Cup and Euros), winning seven and drawing four. However, each of their past three MD3 group games in these tournaments have ended level (D3).
    – Last time out versus Germany (4-2), Portugal became the first reigning champions in European Championship history to concede four goals in a single match in the competition. Indeed, Portugal had never conceded four goals in a single European Championship match before facing Germany on MD2.
    – Portugal have lost two of their past three matches at major tournaments (World Cup and Euros), one more than they had lost in the previous 17 such games combined (W8 D8 L1). They last lost consecutive such matches within a single tournament at Euro 2008.

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